In this, the fifth big screen outing of the infamous foe of Batman, we are lured into the world of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) as he spirals toward a character transition, from simple man to crazed merchant of evil.
This is a gritty film, far removed from the likes of previous films starring Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto. While the film is a lot darker than any previous story featuring Joker, there are to a more or lesser degree, aspects of those appearances present. Most notably, the strongest being that of Heath Ledger’s Clown Prince.
Joker follows the inherent personality transition of Arthur Fleck to The Joker, played out through a social commentary on society, and its blatant disregard for those who are different or of a lower status. With many ideas and story aspects being familiar, there are, at the same time, many differences. Starting with Joker’s origin, and including a look at the politics that would come to shape the city, known for its birth of The Dark Knight.
There are many subtle, and not so subtle, influences from both popular and classic culture present in the film. Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times provides both visuals in many scenes and story context to the character of Joker, something that is sure to thrill any film student or lover of the black and white silent films of yesteryear. The references to The King of Comedy as part of a sub-plot to the film, serve both as a homage and exposition to the state of Arthur’s mind, acting as a thermometer for the viewer, allowing one to judge just how far along the road he is from Arthur to Joker, playing out on a live comedy show, presented by Murray Franklin, placing the cherry on the top by being played by Robert De Niero who played Rupert Pupkin in the 1982 film.
Joker is a masterpiece of story layers, character driven by a talented cast. As we delve deeper into the underbelly of Gotham City, lamenting both status and status-quo, allowing the viewer to slip into a mindset of indifference. The film is an engrossing journey, with few pauses allowing for thought or analysis. This is a film that sets out to share a story, and it impresses, greatly. While the violence and subject matter may not be for everyone, it is more certainly a film one must see, and no doubt will be one of the top films in quite some time. Great film, cinematography, acting, character and story – one would seldom want more from a cinematic narrative.
Joker opens in South African cinemas on 4 October 2019